Prior to our hike we got to examine the cattail and discuss how it can benefit us. Then we proceeded on the 3 mile cross country course behind the Susquenita High School. It is a well kept and well marked trail due to the efforts of Coach Rick Knepp and his helpers. While a moderate hike, some of the hills proved strenuous, especially the hill referred to as the “Demoralizer”, it would prove challenging for a runner as well as a hiker.
Why did Euell Gibbons call the cattail “The Supermarket Plant of the Swamps”? It gets its name because some part of it is edible year round. Parts of the plant have other uses too besides gracing your table.
In the spring the inner core of the first shoots can be used like celery. When the shoots are 2 feet high you can pull out the soft white core eat it raw, boiled, or in salads. The roots can be made into flour which will be discussed in more detail later in this article.
In the summer the cattail bloom or flower head, referred to as “The Kitten” can be eaten like corn on the cob. Gather the kittens while they are still green. Cattail blooms produce heavy, yellow pollen which is used to flavor and thicken soups, and as a substitute for wheat flour. It is high in protein and Vitamin A. Again roots may be used for flour.
In Fall crisp buds at the base of the stalk (next year’s cattail plants) can be eaten raw, boiled with butter, put in salads, or pickled. Roots are best in the winter and fall for flour production.
In Winter the roots are ripe for the picking. Wash and peel the roots and put them in a pail of water. Then mash the roots with your hands to wash out the starch between the fibers of the roots. Pour off the fibers and debris through a strainer leaving the starchy water in the pail for thirty minutes. This allows the starch to settle to the bottom of the pail. After thirty minutes, pour off the water and fill with fresh water allowing time for the starch to settle again. Decant off as much water as you can once the water has cleared. The final product should be a white, starchy flour which can be used wet or dried and stored.
Other uses for the Cattail include drying the leave and using them to make baskets, rush chairs, and mats. The brown heads can be used as fall decorations and down for stuffing mattresses or pillows. They used to be used in life vests. Brown heads can also be lit and used as insect repellent.
Now you know why the cattail is: “The Supermarket Plant of the Swamps”.